Bullets and Ballots [poem by P. R. Stephensen, August 1928]

[Editor: A poem by P. R. Stephensen. Published in The London Aphrodite, number one, August 1928.]

Bullets and Ballots

(Book review in the form of a rhapsody for the barrel-organ)

by P. R. Stephensen


Facilitate Stygian transits
Toll Utopian funeral knells
And celebrate Bolshevik obsequies
For the passing of Shaw and Wells. . . .
If Lenin and Trotsky read Wells and Shaw
No doubt they were perfectly charmed;
Beautiful theories appeal to the soul
When the Workers are Rising, armed:
But who would read Shaw now Soviet Russia
Is governed by hoi polloi?
A Cheka in hand is worth two in the armchair.
Bullets, not words, destroy . . .
And the Modern Mamma talks freely of Sex
To improve her daughter’s mind,
But she tells her to read Marie Stopes, not Wells,
If practically inclined . . .
The Open Conspiracy Nobody Cares About
Nobody cares to hide;
And nobody wants to be guided by
The Intelligent Woman’s Guide.


Lo in the Valley the Grand Old Methuselah
Playing the Game of Darts,
And Shoving-the-Ha’penny of the Ca-pit-alist
Equalised into its parts. . . .
Loud are the cheers of the plutocrat journalists
Praising the notable sight
Of Our Youngest Old Man of Seventy
Giving The City a terrible fright . . .
Everyman over forty’s a Scoundrel,
G. B. used to say
Deplorable truly; for thirty years now
The Dog has Had his Day.
This is the last, surely the last,
Of the (O, how Irish!) series
Of tracts designed to destroy the English
With utterly witty theories:
Alas, now the Red has turned to Silver,
Publishing far and wide,
Even Old Ladies enjoy in their beds
The Witty Old Lady’s Guide.


And lo in the hill-tops, up in the clouds
Britling is Seeing It Through;
And the public is Seeing Through Britling nowadays
More than it used to do:
Truth may reside in a well
But not in very bottomless Wells,
(Except the Truth that blathering fantasy
Boosted as reasoning, sells) . . .
HO! HO! an ingenious practical joke
Has occurred to some flippant god —
Who touched this middle-class radical
With a holy diving rod,
Combined his romantic imagination
Into a weird alliance
With a simple nineteenth-century
Religious belief in Science;
Stirred in Democracy, Progress,
Earnestness, glibness, and pomposity;
To see the result, see Mr. Wells
Afloat in a sea of verbosity.


Query their bona fides,
Query with querying bombs hurled
The bona fides of theoreticians
Who make an Appeal to the World
To be up and doing away (in theory)
With horrible social sores
Such as millionaires and banks
And strikes and poverty and whores
And battleships and City Men
And rents and malnutrition:
These things are being abolished HO! HO!
By the Labour Politician!
By votes and inevitability
Hear-hears and kind laws;
By Shaw, M.P.? and Wells, M.P.?
Why not? Perhaps because. . . .

— Ah. Lenin and Trotsky were Up and Doing
And what about Shaw and Wells?
They are up and doing some more new books
For Socialism Sells

The London Aphrodite, number one, August 1928, pages 48-49

Editor’s notes:
bona fides = evidence or information used to authenticate one’s qualifications or genuineness; from “bona fide” (Latin), meaning “in good faith”

Britling = a reference to the novel Mr. Britling Sees It Through (1916), by H.G. Wells

Cheka = a Russian state security organisation (including secret police); an abbreviation of “Vecheka”, which was an abbreviation of Vserossiyskaya Chrezvychaynaya Komissiya, i.e. the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission (for the Struggle against Counterrevolution, Speculation and Sabotage); the Cheka was a forerunner of the OGPU, NKVD, NKGB, MGB, and KGB

the City = the City of London, often used in the context of London as a major business and financial centre; known colloquially as the Square Mile, the City of London is part of the wider metropolis of London (Greater London)

City Men = men working in the City of London, especially referring to those involved in the finance sector

flippant = acting in a manner which lacks appropriate respect or seriousness

G. B. = George Bernard Shaw

hoi polloi = the common people, the general populace, the masses; from the Greek, literally “the many”; on occasion the phrase is incorrectly used to refer to rich people (a mistake which possibly may have arisen from a confusion with “hoity toity”, used to describe haughty or snobbish people)

obsequies = funeral rites, funeral ceremony

Shaw = George Bernard Shaw

Stygian = very dark, gloomy; forbidding, hellish, unpleasantly dark; of or pertaining to the river Styx (in Greek mythology, a river which formed the boundary between the land of the living and the underworld)

verbosity = the state of being verbose, using many more words than is necessary or appropriate, using excessive wordiness

Wells = H. G. Wells

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